To understand Turkey today, you have to get into the mindset of Turkey’s ruling Justice of Development Party (AKP). No news bulletin can convey the sense of siege — the feeling that the entire world is collaborating to destroy Turkey and its leadership — that emanates from the ruling party these days.
“Let’s Leave NATO,” was a trending hashtag on Twitter in Turkey last weekend, after Ankara withdrew its 40 officers from a NATO drill in Norway after a NATO civilian contractor depicted Erdogan as an enemy in a chat room. “NATO’s plan to attack Turkey in 2018”, ran the headline on a pro-government newspaper the next day. “It is unavoidable for the Turkey and the US to fight,” wrote a columnist at another pro-government daily; “Those who say ‘I am not into this; my property, my comfort trumps my homeland’ should leave the country immediately.”
President Erdogan himself weighed in on Monday and left no doubt as to his views: “As 2019 nears, operations from those that are trying to stop Turkey will increase. In the past few months in European capitals, under the patronage of those states, they had demonstrations with posters [showing] a bullet pointed to our forehead. In another European country, a car was promised to anyone who would kill me. (…) Some say the problem is Tayyip Erdogan. No, the problem is AK Party, which has spoiled their games. (…) They know that they cannot hinder our nation without getting us out of the picture, hence [they are] attacking me personally. But in the same way we have torn apart all the calculations and maps drawn at a table a century ago, we will also tear these apart.”
What is happening in Turkey? Where is this anti-western paranoia coming from? Is Russia wooing Turkey into its orbit? Has Ankara’s strained ties with Europe and the US finally pushed the country over the edge and into the wilderness?
While the story of Turkey’s tensions with the West has been ongoing for years, and accelerated after the coup attempt last summer, much of the current meltdown has to do with one man, Reza Zarrab. His appearance in a Manhattan courtroom next week holds the key to Turkey’s short-term economic prospects – and possibly also its long-term geopolitical orientation.
But the real worry is that the trial could highlight the role of senior AKP figures, even Erdogan himself, in facilitating Zarrab’s scheme
The stakes are high and Europeans cannot seem to grasp that for this brief moment in history, this trial is more important than any issue that surfaces in EU’s relations with Ankara.
Zarrab is an Iranian gold-trader who married a Turkish pop-star in 2010 and rapidly climbed his way up Turkey’s power ladder. With several yachts, flashy homes and a fondness for celebrity status, Zarrab’s generosity as a Great Gatsby on the Bosporus bought him important friends. Nonetheless, in December 2013 he found himself at the center of a massive corruption investigation in Turkey involving illegal gold transfers and fake exports that had siphoned billions of dollars to Iran, circumventing international sanctions.
Several sitting ministers were accused of accepting bribes from Zarrab, and the scheme allegedly centered around the state-owned Halkbank. The Turkish government saw the investigation as a Gülen-linked attempt to bring down the Erdogan government, and swiftly buried the case and arrested those who brought up the charges. But unbeknown to Ankara, an FBI inquiry was also quietly underway, and Zarrab was arrested in March 2016 when he landed in Miami to visit Disneyland with his family.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at : http://ecfr.eu
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